Thinking about the Possible: Imagination and Learning in Early Childhood
Conventional wisdom suggests that knowledge and imagination, science and fantasy, are deeply different from one another – even opposites. However, new ideas about children’s causal reasoning suggests that exactly the same abilities that allow children to learn so much about the world, reason so powerfully about it, and act to change it, also allow them to imagine alternative worlds that may never exist at all. A large portion of our psychological lives is spent disengaging from our immediate observations – what is – to consider alternative possibilities – what could be. While the imagination has long been assumed to generate this type of counterfactual thought, little research has explored how human minds, even the very youngest human minds, manage to produce these counterfactuals, how we know which possibilities will be the most likely to occur, and why imagining new possibilities is important. I will present an argument characterizing the relation between imagination and causal cognition, in light of recent developments in computational theories of cognitive development.